Baltimore native Nikkia Echols, a former dancer for the Randallstown, MD High School Band, is skipping mom’s home cooking and the chance to help out her old dance team this spring break. But she’s also not lounging on a beach, like so many of her fellow college students do this time of the year, or hanging at a famous spring break party hot spot.

Instead, Echols is at Hope Hill Elementary School in Atlanta, tutoring fourth-grade students in math and English in preparation for this year’s state achievement tests.

Echols is one of nearly 100 Howard students who are in Atlanta to work at the school as part of the University’s annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. This year, more than 350 students are in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Washington and Haiti working in needy communities.

This is Echols’ first time as a program participant. Despite the 13-hour bus trip to Atlanta, Echols was upbeat about her first day tutoring children.

“I appreciate the mission of ASB-Atlanta,” she said. “I’m proud that I can help students find something inside of them that will keep them looking forward to their futures.”

Echols will concentrate on reading comprehension while other volunteers are tutoring in math and English. She said she hopes that she can instill confidence in the children that will not only help them pass the state assessment tests, but will resonate long after the Howard students leave.

Lacey Coleman, 18, another Maryland native, is also excited about working with the children at Hope Hill. Coleman, an early graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Md., is a sophomore majoring in audio production. She is also a first-timer to Alternative Spring Break.

“I have a soft spot for children, and I especially have an affinity for children who struggle in their studies,” Coleman said.

Coleman said she had difficulties with reading comprehension in elementary school.

“I want to target their problems and give them a chance to talk about it,” she said. “I want to provide the encouragement and inspiration they need.”

Freshman pre-pharmacy major Nathaniel Gerald is also participating in ABS for the first time. Gerald is from Cleveland, where he graduated from Shaker Heights High School.

“I expect an amazing experience out of ASB, and that’s what I intend to get,” Gerald said. “I knew that I’d have a lot of responsibility, and I welcome it. But along the way, I hope to build closer bonds with my fellow peers from HU and friendships with others. I just really want to make an impact.”

Gerald said while some might see what he’s doing over spring break as a sacrifice, he doesn’t.

“I believe in the motto that if you look back on the past, you can improve the future,” he said.